A gleaming new bus station that has sat partly empty for nearly a year will begin serving riders on Monday. But it will be several more months before the Shakopee station offers express commuter service.

“What we expect is that this will be a hub of operations for the area,” said Lisa Freese, the transportation program director for Scott County.

The station will serve as the connection point for local bus routes in Shakopee. And next spring, the county will offer expanded BlueXpress commuter bus service to Minneapolis out of the station.

“We’ll be able to offer more service, more frequency of service, and midday service that will enable folks to get home at times other than the p.m. peak period,” Freese said. “We have a lot of folks who want to use this site because it’s more convenient. They can walk.”

The station isn’t just for commuters and bus-dependent travelers. Land to Air Express (http://www.landtoairexpress.com/), a private company, begins offering shuttle service to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from the station on Friday.

And if riders are looking for a chance to test out the station, this summer is a great time: the county will offer weekend and Labor Day bus service to the Minnesota State Fair.

A sound investment

Located in a former auto dealership where Marschall Road meets Hwy. 169, the station — which includes, for the first time in Scott County, an indoor, heated waiting area — has been in the works since the county purchased the property three years ago.

The station cost just over $6.6 million. About $4.1 million was offset by funding from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and most of the rest was funded by Scott County. That includes the cost of purchasing and retrofitting the property, and building a bus-only ramp to Hwy. 169.

“It was an economical decision for the county to do this,” said Lezlie Vermillion, the Scott County deputy administrator. “It was the reuse of a building, and so the investment we put in really was quite low.”

Officials had originally hoped to have the station fully operational in 2014. But the project was delayed because the design and government-approval process took longer than expected, Vermillion said.

“When you do projects like this, you run into a little extra time it takes to design it and design it right,” Vermillion said. “There are just issues you have to resolve during the design process and it takes time and coordination to get that stuff done.”

In addition to serving as a bus station and as a garage facility for local buses, the building houses the administrative offices for the county’s central library and the SmartLink Transit service.

Those offices moved to the space in September 2013. But getting bus service off the ground at the station has taken longer. Local buses have just started stopping there. BlueXpress bus service will not begin operating out of the facility until next spring because the county is waiting for six new buses to be delivered.

With such a large parking lot sitting unused, the facility can look abandoned. Some residents were beginning to wonder whether the station was ever going to be used.

“It seems like it’s been sitting there idle for a while,” said Tom Tomashek, a Shakopee resident. “The thought crossed my mind that maybe it is open and no one is using it yet.”

Because he works in a nearby suburb, Tomashek said he isn’t likely to use the station. But he’s still glad the county built it.

“I think it’s great for the community,” Tomashek said. “It’s just set to grow, so setting this up now it’s something that can be used in the future.”

Car-centric

Like most affluent suburban communities, Scott County is largely car-dependent, with substantially higher levels of car ownership than the Minnesota average. Nearly 76 percent of households have two or more cars, and only 3 percent have no car at all.

But it’s also one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, and Scott County officials are betting that demand for public transit will continue to grow.

“The bottom line is, if we can get people off the roads and into the mass transit, there’s less congestion on the roads, and we have to build less roads,” said County Commissioner Tom Wolf. “In the bigger picture it makes sense.”

The new station is a sign of increasing investment in public transit in Scott County. The county opened its first park-and-ride station at Southbridge Crossing in 2007 and a second two years ago at County Road 21 and Eagle Creek Boulevard in Shakopee.

Those two facilities offer about 1,100 park-and-ride spaces. The new Marschall Road station should increase the county’s park-and-ride capacity to about 1,500 cars.

That’s many more spaces than there is demand for currently. But the Metropolitan Council estimates that by 2020, there will be enough demand to justify at least 1,200 park-and-ride spaces along the southern Hwy. 169 corridor.

“Currently the park-and-rides are not full,” said Michael Leek, who oversees BlueXpress service for the City of Shakopee. “We’ve built out the capacity that we understand from that Met Council projection to be needed in the very near future.”

 

Dylan Peers McCoy is a Twin Cities freelance writer.